The next question is: What is the best way for teaching phonemic awareness. Some people are claiming phonics, but we needed to be very careful about using the word phonics. The word phonics is being used in so many different ways (my 7-9-2017 blog post describes phonics techniques) and to describe so many different teaching approaches that I, personally, never use the word. The word phonics is just too confusing; furthermore, even though, some phonics approaches use letter sounds, most do not actually focus on phonemic awareness. So, I stay clear of phonics. Remember, the goal is to teach phonemic awareness—not memorization of phonics rules. The same children who cannot memorize a list of sight words, cannot memorize a list of phonics rules. I use vowel clustering—no memorization needed (see my 6-5-2017 blog post, where I give a more detailed description of vowel clustering).
All of my programs teach phonemic awareness (learning letter sounds) and phonological awareness (learning to work with letter sounds). Phonemic awareness teaches children to recognize that letters of the alphabet represent sounds. Phonological awareness teaches children to work with letter sounds. The children must learn to decode (break down) words into letter sounds and then encode (reassemble) those sounds back into pronounceable words (Shaywitz, 2003). Vowel clustering is a method that teaches both phonemic and phonological awareness by teaching children to decode and encode letter sounds in order to read words (Clanton Harpine, 2010). Children are taught to sound words out letter by letter instead of guessing.
Vowel clustering emphasizes the lowercase alphabet, sounding out letter sounds and combinations of letter sounds. Students are never asked to memorize word lists or to memorize phonics rules. One of the unique features of vowel clustering is that it teaches all of the sounds for a specific vowel in a cluster. With the letter A, the children learn all seven sounds used by letter A and the 22 different letter combinations that can be used to make those seven sounds. The traditional phonics approach was to teach the “short vowel sounds” and then the “long vowel sounds using silent E.” The other sounds were called “irregular vowel sounds,” but it is these irregular vowel sounds where most children get confused. Teaching vowels in clusters teaches children to think and learn all of the sounds for each vowel in an organized pattern. It’s actually easier and less confusing than old-style phonics, and vowel clustering works directly with how the brain assimilates and organizes letter sounds—connecting synapses and building pathways (Shaywitz, 2003). Vowel clustering is my primary approach for teaching phonemic awareness.